Amid coronavirus crisis, MHA asks states to invoke Essential Commodities Act, warns offenders of imprisonment and fine

NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Wednesday (April 7, 2020) directed the state governments to invoke the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to ensure supplies of essential commodities to people during the ongoing lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centre has also warned that the offences committed under the Essential Commodities Act are criminal acts and may result in imprisonment of 7 years or fine or both.

According to the sources, the Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla has written to states to ensure the availability of essential goods by invoking the Essential Commodities Act 1955. In his letter, Bhalla also urged the state governments to take steps to prevent hoarding/black marketing and ensure essential items are available at fair prices to the public.

“Ensure availability of essential commodities during the lockdown as hoarding, black marketing can’t be ruled out,’’ the Home Secretary stated in his letter to states.

The development comes a day after the Home Minister issued directions to the authorities to take quick and stern action against people indulging in hoarding and black marketing of goods.

On Tuesday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah directed the authorities to take appropriate steps in coordination with state governments to prevent hoarding and black marketing of commodities during the 21-day lockdown in the country to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The directives were issued after a detailed review of essential commodities and implementation of the lockdown by Shah, Joint Secretary in the Ministry Punya Salila Srivastava said.

Addressing a press conference, she said the Home Minister has issued directions to the authorities to take quick and stern action against people indulging in hoarding and black marketing of goods.

The official said the government is closely monitoring the movement of pharmaceuticals along with other essential items. “The status of essential goods and services is by and large satisfactory,” Srivastava said.

She said the aircraft flying under the Lifeline Udan of Civil Aviation Ministry has transported 200 tonnes cargo and Railways has loaded 8,897 rakes and 4.57 lakh wagons loaded with essential items till Monday.

“State governments are taking proactive steps to control the COVID-19 pandemic. On one hand, they are stopping public movement and on the other hand, they are also increasing screening of contacts,” she said.

Giving details of the measures taken by the government to successfully implement the lockdown, she said next week a lot of festivals are coming up and many community leaders have appealed to people to help the government in strictly implementing the lockdown during the festive season.

On Wednesday – the 15th day of nationwide lockdown, the number of people infected with the virus in the country has gone up to 5,194, according to the Union Ministry of Health. As many as 149 people have lost their lives due to the virus in India. Global cases of COVID-19 are about to reach 1.5 million with death toll crossing 80,000. Wuhan, the city which was the epicenter of the pandemic, is seeing life staggering back towards normalcy as Hubei slowly lifted its 6-week lockdown.